Is fumaric acid safe to eat? (7+ benefits)
Is fumaric acid safe to eat?
In this article, we will discuss whether eating fumaric acid is safe, the benefits and drawbacks of using it as a food additive, the expected health risks, and the ways to enhance the safety of fumaric acid usage in foods.
Fumaric acid (C4H4O4) is a weak organic acid with 4-carbon dicarboxylic acid which is added as an alternative food additive to tartaric acid, citric acid, and malic acid.
Is fumaric acid safe to eat?
Yes, fumaric acid is safe when used as a food additive as it has a ‘Generally Regarded As Safe’ label. This non-toxic chemical is stable and does not accumulate in the human body or degrade into dangerous compounds (1,2,3).
However, eating large acute levels of fumaric acid can cause damage to kidneys with an intake level of 6 mg fumaric acid/kg body weight/day is recommended as safe (3,4).
Direct contact irritates both skin and eyes. Inhaling leads to nose and throat irritation resulting in coughing and wheezing (5).
In which foods is fumaric acid added as an additive?
Human skin naturally produces fumaric acid when exposed to sunlight and is also present in certain fungi, algae and plants as well as in fruits such as watermelon and apple.
It is added as a food additive to impart flavour and stabilize various food products and beverages including dairy and baked products, desserts and sweets, processed and packaged meats, processed fruits and vegetables, carbonated and alcoholic beverages, grain products, and some condiments (1).
What are the benefits of fumaric acid in food?
Being an acidulant, fumaric acid adds a sharp acidic or sour flavour to foods and beverages. It preserves foods to extend their shelf life by lowering pH and making them less favourable for the growth of pathogenic microorganisms (6,7).
From a health point of view, it kills pathogenic microorganisms and stops their growth by disrupting cell membranes and function (8). Studies show that iron absorption and energy production in the human body are greatly enhanced by fumaric acid (9,10).
|Adds fruity flavour with a sharp sour taste|
|Stabilizes food by emulsification|
|Improves texture, color and quality of food products|
|Preserves foods from spoilage microorganisms|
|Extends the shelf life of foods|
|Enhances iron absorption in human|
|Helps in energy production in human|
What are the drawbacks of adding fumaric acid to food?
Although generally safe, some of the beneficial properties of fumaric acid also pose a risk. For example, the hydrophobic (water-hating) nature related to its high antimicrobial activity also results in poor solubility in water (0.6%), which is risky when added to beverages (6,7).
Fumaric acid is the strongest food acid which is 1.5 times more acidic than citric acid and thus imparts a strong flavour, making the food unpalatable sometimes (7).
So, its food application is restricted in some parts of the world including Europe (6,7).
Are there any health risks in eating fumaric acid?
Generally, in the levels used in foods, fumaric acid does not cause any health risks (1,2,3).
However, intake in high amounts especially for psoriasis treatment leads to symptoms including flushing, diarrhoea, kidney retention, gastrointestinal discomforts, bloating, and stomach cramps (4).
Also, it increases the transaminases, lowers lymphocytes, and elevates eosinophils, weakening our body to fight infections (4).
How to enhance the safety of fumaric acid?
The safety of fumaric acid can be enhanced by
- using the permitted level of fumaric acid in food (4 g/kg) (3).
- maintaining the allowable daily intake level (6 mg/kg body weight) (3).
- not using the product obtained by chemical methods (10,11).
- using the product obtained by safe microbial fermentation method (10,11).
- using a highly pure product (11).
In this article, we have answered whether it is safe to eat fumaric acid and discussed the benefits and drawbacks of using it as a food additive, along with exploring the health risks associated with eating fumaric acid and providing insights to enhance the safety of fumaric acid.
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JECFA, Food additive details – Fumaric acid, General Standard for Food Additives Online Database, Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA), 2023.
USFDA, Food for human consumption – Food additives permitted for direct addition to food for human consumption, Department of Health and Human Services, FDA-Title 21-Part 172, 2023.
EFSA, EFSA Panel on Additives and Products or Substances Used in Animal Feed (FEEDAP) – Scientific Opinion on the safety and efficacy of fumaric acid as a feed additive for all animal species. European Food Safety Authority Journal 2013, 11, 3102.
Dickel, H., Bruckner, T., Altmeyer, P. Long-term real-life safety profile and effectiveness of fumaric acid esters in psoriasis patients: a single-centre, retrospective, observational study. Journal of European Academy of Dermatology & Venereology 2018, 32, 1710-1727.
Fumaric Acid – Hazardous Substance Fact Sheet, New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services, 2002, pp. 1-6.
Jagan, L., Rao, M., Ramalakshmi, K. Chapter 13-Ingredients of soft drinks. In Recent Trends in Soft Beverages, Woodhead Publishing India, 2011, pp.189-209.
Gurtler, J.B., Mai, T.L. Traditional preservatives – organic acids, Encyclopedia of Food Microbiology, 2nd edition, Academic Press, 2014, pp.119-130.
Tsukatani, T., Sakata, F. Combined effects of fumaric, lactic, and ferulic acid against food-borne pathogenic biofilms. Food Control 2022, 138, 109024.https://doi.org/10.1016/j.foodcont.2022.109024
Salovaara, S., Sandberg, A.S., Andlid, T. Organic acids influence iron uptake in the human epithelial cell line caco-2, Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry 2002, 50, 6233-6238.
Kuenz, A., Eidt, L., Prüße, U. Biotechnological production of fumaric acid by Rhizopus arrhizus – Reaching industrially relevant final titers. Fermentation 2023, 9, 588.
Figueira, D., Cavalheiro, J., Ferreira, B.S. Purification of polymer-grade fumaric acid from fermented spent sulfite liquor. Fermentation 2017, 3, 13.